How The Village Of Kodinhi Has An Astonishingly High Rate of Twins Being Born
Kodinhi, in Kerala, has an astonishingly high rate of twins being born — amongst the highest in the world. Nobody has been able to discover why, though.
The first time I heard the name Kodinhi was in the parking lot of the newspaper office where I once worked. One of my colleagues had suggested it as a story for the Sunday supplement, and another stubbed it out, along with his dying cigarette. “For later,” he had muttered, before advocating something more convenient. In my head, this was a village where classrooms had two of each student, tailors stitched two of each garment and expecting mothers felt two pair of kicks in their womb – a village that blessed its inhabitants with twins and sometimes triplets. Throw in a couple who are trying to conceive, or a childless couple in a place full of twins, or a pregnant woman who stumbles upon this village in a chance encounter and you have the kind of setting that would make a good premise for a Stephen King short story.
One afternoon, years later, a long meandering conversation with M, an old friend, resurrected the memory. We talked about the strangeness of it, and moved to other things that were new in his life. M and his wife were based in Kozhikode, a coastal city that was coincidentally a two hour drive from Kodinhi. It didn’t require much coaxing to take them away for a weekend, M with his DSLR, and his wife with her curious, wide eyes and her newlywed charm. Before us, outsiders had strayed in twos and threes into the town, wanting to decode the ‘miracle’, as an upshot of which the internet bustled with a myriad of theories and possible explanations. In an age where magic is further appealing when we know we are not being fooled, where we can dissect the tricks and be amazed at their simplicity, several explanations sprung up that covered climatic, genetic, biological and lifestyle reasons.
A night train, full moon and half a glass of dancing tea (a Kozhikode delicacy) later, I met up with the couple and we drove our way to Kodinhi. Sweltering in the mid-summer blaze, it managed to keep its lake full, and its paddy fields lush. “The secret to its fertility has to be buried in the soil,” M said. As we cooked up various theories, a blue board flashed past, donated by a local sports club – ‘Welcome to the God’s own Twins Village, Kodinhi.’ With an overall population of just over 2000 families, this village has logged the incidence of 350 pair of twins. Here, every 45 of 1000 children born are twins, which is a whopping figure when compared to the average twinning rate, which is normally only 6 of every 1,000 live births. What is more, India has one of the lowest twinning rates in the world – but Kodinhi stands well apart.
We lost our way a couple of times, distracted and busy scanning the roads for identical faces. The streets were speckled with a handful of children, none of whom resembled one another. Three women, all in nightgowns, with duppattas over their heads, were engaged in banter. One of them held a baby on her hip. Where was the twin? Was it all just a cock and bull story, over hyped and exaggerated? In the front seat, M and his wife were checking the GPRS for Tirurangadi, where there was a hospital we were planning to visit. We stopped to get directions. Outside my window was a string of shops, and the vendor in one was arguing with a man half his age. He kept shoving aside the ribbon from a pink gown that repeatedly fluttered onto his face. One keen glance and it struck me that the pink gown – its exact butterfly print, white lace and ribbon straps — was replicated in a shade of blue next to it. This was followed by T-shirts, shorts, skirts and pyjamas displayed in sets of two — same design, different colours. The owner was out for lunch, but the assistant was busy making a sale. “This is a common trend in Tirurangadi, Kodinhi, Umri and nearby parts in Malappuram,” he said, showing me an entire range of identical clothing. He even had matching broaches, to go with similar patterned head scarves.
Tirurangadi is a wounded town. In 1920, the Khilafat committee secretary, Vadakkevetil Muhammed, was alleged to have stolen a pistol from a Hindu manor. When the police came looking for him in Tirurangadi, they had to confront a crowd of 2000 Mappilas, who are Muslims. The conflict was two-way — the policemen barged into the Mambaram mosque, and in return the Mappilas seized the police station. We cross a monument that is a reminder of the Mappila rebellion, as we take a turn to the Taluk hospital. M’s wife recounts learning about it in her history lessons — the event marked the beginning of the goriest communal event in the history of Kerala, wiping out almost all Hindus from the Malabar region, she says. Around 85 per cent of the town’s population is Muslim, but the twinning phenomenon extends to the Hindu minority as well. This is one of the things that puzzles Dr Sribiju, resident doctor at the Tirurangadi Taluk Hospital.
We meet at a government high school, where the doctor takes a break from his medical camp to talk to me. Benches have been stacked onto the back wall. There are people outside the door, waiting for their turn for a free check-up. “A similar twinning scenario is recorded in Candido Godoi, in Brazil, and the researchers have established that it is genetic. People here want to hurry and derive the same conclusion, but this Brazilian community believes in consanguinity. They inbreed, and do not marry outside of their community, but in Kodinhi, it’s a different story. Irrespective of caste, religion and colour, women married into this town, women who are married and sent away from this town, have all been affected by this.” He struggles to remember the names of the infertile couples who relocated to Kodinhi and were blessed with twins. “A teacher. A carpenter — and these are not just stories,” he assures me.
In 2008, the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology undertook a study of the birth pattern in the village, concluding that the cause, in all probability, was genetic. Dr Sribiju strongly disagrees. “If it is genetic, it wouldn’t affect outsiders. I personally knew this teacher, who was not from this village. In my view, there is some chemical, or component in the air or water, that is stimulating the female ovary to produce dizygotic eggs. The task now is to find out what the stimulator is, and it needs extensive research, from scratch. It is an unexplored subject.” He aims to get help from the government, because he has a feeling that the medical industry might have hit a jackpot here. If the ovary stimulator can be pinpointed, then wouldn’t that be the perfect cure for female infertility?
It has been 15 years since Dr Sribiju joined Tirurangadi Taluk Hospital. Within the first few months, the increasing number of twins visiting him had nudged his curiosity. He began with casual questions to his patients about the number of twins in their family. In 2008, he conducted a survey, which recorded 256 pairs of twins in Kodinhi. Most of these were female-female twins, followed by female-male and male-male twins. “Every year, the village records a minimum of 20 twin births. The count has now exceeded 350. What is fascinating is that this isn’t exclusive to Kodihni. There are several smaller neighbouring village, like Cherumukku, Umri etc and deeper pockets of Malabar that show a similar incidence,” he says.
We are interrupted by one of the administrators of the medical camp. He is irked at the media attention the village is garnering, and the time that the doctor had to set aside for us. I ask him if it doesn’t make him curious that he hails from a state that shows such an intriguing trend. “It has been written about, and the reason doesn’t need such analysis. It is just in the girth and genes of Muslims. Would you want to know about our medical camp instead?” I walk away feeling somewhat annoyed, but not before getting the contact details of Asiya, a Panchayat member who has agreed to introduce me to some of the twins. Some of the men here are visibly irritated at their village being treated as a museum, but there are also others who want to make the most of this fame – I have been repeatedly warned to stay away from any associations that guarantee to escort me to the right places. Repeated episodes of exclusive information and interviews being handed over for a wad of cash have led to public shaming of such associations, forcing the government to intervene.
“The Panchayat took over just a few months back. We are a small group of three, who have now taken it upon ourselves to make sure no one is exploited,” Asiya says as we walk to the first house on the list, that of Bushra Pannackal, who was married into Kodinhi from Kottakal. In her maternal house, there wasn’t a history of twinning, but her first delivery was triplets, followed by a boy. The triplets, who have just finished class 10, shy away behind curtains and refuse to be photographed. This happens when we go to another house — the parents refuse to let us take pictures of their twins. A lot has changed in the last two years, Asiya tells me. “Earlier, they used to welcome guests and photographers. Now, they are wary and tired of trespassers.”
The oldest twin, according to the survey, is 87-year old village school headmaster Mohammad Haji, and the oldest pair of surviving twins are 69-year old sisters Kunhi Pathuty and Pathuty. When we visit the house of twins Varshida and Murshida and enquire about twins in their family, they give us a count of three, and that is until the 78-year old grandmother, Nebesu, suddenly speaks about how she had a twin brother too, who died young. This, for surveyors and researchers, is the biggest hurdle — the count is never accurate. There might have been twin miscarriages, stillborns where one child would have passed away before being born and, in other cases, children who died young and were not remembered.
As we drive around meeting twin children dressed in similar clothes, Asiya tells us of another myth surrounding the twin births. “There are people who say it is because we in Malabar consume a lot of yam and root vegetables. It ups the eostrogen count, or something along those lines.” Most mothers of twins like to believe the magic is in the air or water, in a land that has at times been proven to bless the barren. “Something causes the women to hyperovulate when here,” they say. Throughout the trip, M and his wife exchange glances and chat about the challenges of raising twins, at one point even exclaiming how it would be nice to have a boy and a girl together. They are sure to visit Kodinhi again in the near future.